Once burned out, twice shy: The unaffordable cost of work-related stress

Chris Parke, CEO and Co-founder, Talking Talent, discusses how workers are being affected by work-related stress and what businesses can do to support their employees

As the summer gets into full swing and employees look forward to their holidays, many may feel like the hard work they’ve done recently has earned them a well-deserved break. That’s all well and good – and valid – but it’s important for businesses to remember that whilst holidays are a great way for workers to get some much-needed relaxation, short breaks are not a solution to long-term burnout. Burnout is a serious personal and business affliction that costs a company money and workers mental health implications.

With workplace stress on the rise, and employees wrestling with increasingly complex and stressful lives, people need more support from the organisations they work in. More than half (57%) of all UK employees feel worn out by work, whilst half a million people in the UK now suffer from work-related stress. There’s a general rising trend of employees being overworked and having poor work-life balance, which is undermining UK job quality.

The costs to both individual and business performance are rising as a result. Work-related stress and mental illness accounts for over half of work absences – and costs British businesses an estimated £26 billion per annum. In addition, studies have revealed that 460,000 people transition from work to sickness and disability benefits a year, which costs employers £9 billion a year.

Therefore, it’s unaffordable for businesses to ignore the negative impacts that burnout can have on their workers – and they must do more to help combat, and protect their staff from, it.

The problem for businesses and employees

As well as impacting employees’ day-to-day working lives, it’s also affecting their time out of the office. Two-in-five (40%) staff say that after work they don’t have enough energy for their family, friends and other activities, whilst almost a third (32%) of women feel like they need an alcoholic drink after finishing their working day. Worryingly, over a quarter (28%) of workers use prescribed medication to feel better – showing that office stress has physical impacts on workers that stretch way beyond going-home time.

When in the office, almost half (49%) of workers lose focus at work, indicating that burnout and office stress is holding back employees from being able to perform their daily tasks properly. That’s where the costs to businesses start creeping in – and another compelling reason as to why they must do more to help.

When it comes to combatting the problem, research has also indicated that employee support should be extended by employers – rather than requested by employees. Over a third of employees (34%) wouldn’t feel comfortable reaching out to their employer if they were experiencing burnout, whilst almost a fifth (18%) of workers feel that organisations could do better by offering coaching to help cope with stress, to support the wellbeing of their staff.

Burning out working parents

Burnout is a very real problem for all, but it’s hitting working parents particularly hard – likely due to the fact that they are juggling more every day. The stats back this up: 62% of working women with children feel worn out versus 46% without. The same goes for fathers, too; 72% of working dads claim to be worn out versus 51% of those without children. This indicates that more needs to be done to support those juggling work and childcare – especially when it comes to holiday during the year.

One reason that it’s so important for businesses to work hard to combat employee burnout all year round is because holidays are rarely the break that working parents so desperately need. Whether they’re working hard to find childcare – which brings added stress and extra costs – or taking their children away, holidays are rarely relaxing breaks for those juggling work and parenthood. And they can be costly: parents face either booking trips away during peak price times, paying up to 81% more than usual, or facing school penalties that start at around £800 for term-time breaks.

Offering working patterns that enable parents to be flexible, especially over the summer holidays, will not only help the employees struggling to find care for their children, but will also have a positive impact on organisations themselves too – in supporting staff, retaining talent, and helping build a happy, mentally-healthy workforce. Flexible working policies should be a minimum for working parents, to help support them manage both their personal and professional commitments effectively.

Helping solve the quandary of burnout

Whilst not being a sticking plaster for burnout, flexible working can help solve the problem, and it comes in a number of guises to support employees – from working from home and job sharing to working part-time and flexitime. As MP Helen Whately asserted when she recently introduced a flexible working bill in Parliament, flexible working should be the default position for all employees, rather than something that individuals request. That’s because flexible working could help close the gender pay gap and enable parents to share childcare, whilst helping businesses retain staff.

However, the scene is currently bleak for those who wants those options: a third of UK office employees are still not offered flexible working. Although the right to request flexible working was introduced in 2014, just 9.8% of jobs paying more than £20,000 are advertised as being flexible – whilst 87% of workers would like the option to work flexibly.

There are huge opportunities for employers to make it easier for their employees to manage their own wellbeing better, but organisations also need to address a cultural challenge. They must give employees confidence that it is not a sign of weakness to start talking about burnout, and help support them in combatting this – one significant way is enabling employees to understand better how to manage their own wellbeing and offering coaching where required.

The true asset of an organisation is its people: thus, businesses need to take action to support their employees’ wellbeing. The risk of burnout is real, and if left unexamined, wellbeing issues can reverse positive trends in diversity and inclusion aimed at improving organisational performance. On the flip side, policies like flexible working can help employees be the best professional version of themselves, whilst positively impacting their productivity and dedication to the company they work for.

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